The following is part of an interview series:
PRINT LITERARY JOURNALS in conversation with BENNINGTON REVIEW
via email in Spring 2019
What would you say is the importance of literary journals and magazines in the world today?
Despite their relatively small circulation, literary journals continue to play a large role in bringing new voices into the world, as well as giving mid-career and established writers a place to experiment and explore, without the pressures of commercial publication (will this sell?). They also bring poetry to readers of fiction and nonfiction, which is something I’ve always appreciated, as most of my reading, writing, teaching, and editing life centers around fiction. I’m glad to have read so many wonderful poets in the pages of Crazyhorse and in other journals I subscribe to.
For writers, literary journals continue to serve as the highest possible read your story, poem, or essay could likely receive, since these magazines are staffed with students and editors who are absolutely in love with the written word, and who are committed to literature in a way that strikes me as unique. Where else could your work receive such attention? I’ve always taken comfort in the knowledge that so many literary magazines are out there, eager to read unsolicited submissions. There’s something wonderful about that, the open marketplace, I guess. I’m grateful to play a small role in that process.
Lastly, literary magazines are often beautiful, just as objects, and I think there’s value in that. Who wouldn’t mind a little more beauty in the world?
How do you see the literary mission of Crazyhorse, when compared to other journals, as a print magazine in a digital age? Do you feel like your mission has been evolving?
Our mission largely feels the same to me as it always has, namely to bring the best stories, poems, and essays to our readers that we possibly can. We have a strong online presence, but we’re careful not to let our online presence eclipse the print journal. So, for example, we only publish a selection of pieces from the magazine online, and we do not as yet have online exclusive pieces, aside from book reviews. I don’t think we look over our shoulder too much, comparing ourselves to other magazines, but I will say that we take a lot of pride in our covers, since readers seem to associate us with our covers, as well as our square shape. We want to be the kind of journal that readers want to hold in their hands, even if they first learned about us online, though checking out our submission guidelines, contests, or digital content.
Crazyhorse has been around since 1960. How does a magazine stay fresh and vital and new over so many generations?
That’s a good question. I’ve been at the magazine since 2005, so I can’t speak for the whole arc of Crazyhorse’s long history, but I will say that we have a great group of editors who love what they do and are always asking, What could we be doing better? We never do things at Crazyhorse because that’s the way we’ve always done things at Crazyhorse. We mix things up. We experiment. We push things a bit. So, in the years I’ve been at the magazine, we’ve overhauled the cover design, the interior, the logo, the table of contents, started a short-short contest, published winning short-shorts as broadsides and distributed them at AWP, started a writing conference, started publishing book reviews online, added creative nonfiction to the annual contest genres, and completely redesigned the website, just to name a few.
Looking at your publications, there seems to be a history of high-profile authors and poets, such as John Updike, Robert Bly, and Joyce Carol Oates, contributing to Crazyhorse. How do you balance publishing the work of these prominent authors with the work of lesser known people?
We’re lucky, of course, to have the good fortune to publish work from so many high-profile authors, but the truth is that, in fiction, at least, we get nearly everything we publish from unsolicited submissions. So I don’t think there’s really that much of a balancing act as you might imagine. We do solicit writers from time to time, and we have good relationships with literary agents who send us work from up and coming writers—but, again, the bulk of our content is from the slush pile.
You are a fiction writer, a professor of fiction writing, and a fiction editor of a prominent magazine. What, to you, makes for a great short story? How do you know as you’re reading that you might be in the presence of something exceptional?
I know I’m in presence of a great story when the story makes me forget that I’m reading a story at all. I forget that I’m sitting in front of my laptop, with so many submissions to get through, and just get lost in the fictive world of the story. Later, after I’ve marked the story for further consideration, I know it’s a great story if I can recall—even after having read hundreds of stories in the interim—a specific scene or passage or image or line of dialogue from the story just by seeing the title again. I see the title and think, Yes, that’s the story where the husband sees his wife sitting at the kitchen table in the middle of the night and says ________. If that happens, there’s a good chance that story is on its way to publication.
JACOB SANDERS is a second-year student at Bennington College.
ANTHONY VARALLO is the fiction editor of Crazyhorse.